Haluski Marriage

I used to know it would be a good night when my husband came home and said, ”Honey, I smell your haluski and it smells SO good.” Just what every woman wants to hear after a long day at the office. But since we’ve had children—only one of whom will eat the Polish cabbage and noodle dish—carefully picking out the chunks of cabbage—I can only yearn for the days of eating supper and “letting the dishes go. ” (Photo by Jennifer Causey http://www.jennifercausey.com.)

I have often secretly wondered if my husband fell in love with me a little because of my haluski. Oh, I know there’s more to me than that. But I‘ll always remember the spark I saw when he first took a bite of it when were we dating—back in the days that I had the luxury of frying the cabbage in a cast iron skillet in real butter. Now, since we are frantic middle-aged parents, we can barely fit in steaming our cabbage and boiling our whole-wheat noodles between homework, soccer games, and carpool to ballet lessons.

I grew up eating haluski—another one of the Western Pennsylvania mainstays of my youth. It’s just cabbage and noodles, with butter. You can fry the cabbage, as my mother insists is the best way. (See
the Kitchen Queen rules.)
You can also boil it, or steam it, which is how I make it. It gives the cabbage a subtler flavor, and your arteries might thank you for it later. My mother thinks its impolite to talk about arteries and food in the same conversation, and when the topic of frying anything in butter comes up, she likes to say, “All things in moderation,” meaning “Go ahead and fry the cabbage in real butter, hon, it won’t hurt you.”


I love the way my husband loves my haluski. By the time I met Eric, I had my fill of dating men who wanted to impress me with their knowledge of French food, wine, or truffles—not that there’s any thing wrong with that perfectly fine food, but it’s hardly the kind of food from which to form a relationship.

Haluski is exactly the kind of food on which good relationships can be based. If you fall on hard times, it’s a dish you can rely on— it’s cheap and fairly nutritious. When family life gets harried, and it’s difficult to find the time to have a meal together—there’s always quickly put-together haluski. When you need a good dish for a potluck to share with friends and extended family, there’s haluski.

My  mother recently confided to me that my father—a man who sprang from the Appalachian coalmines and farm fields—did not appreciate haluski when they were married. He was a man who wanted cast-iron fried potatoes at least twice week, along side any kind of meat and vegetable. She tried to harness all of her creativity and curiosity to create a meat and potatoes lifestyle for him—and she did so willingly. But the truth is some of my parents worst disagreements were, indeed, about food.

Funny,how time mellows people. I can’t imagine Dad turning his nose up at any dish, let alone haluski, that my stepmother would set on the table in front of him. And I can’t imagine that my mother would even try to squash any of her own culinary impulses to satisfy anybody else. She lives alone and likes it that way.

Mom still makes huge pots of haluski and eats it for days. Sometimes even for breakfast. At this point in my life, I prefer to live with my husband, a man who appreciates a good, earthy, haluski every now and then, but I am not sure just what he would think about haluski in the morning—at least not before coffee.

Is there a special dish you can relate to your relationship?

Haluski

If you don’t
have the time or patience to make your own noodles, you can substitute
prepackaged wide noodles, such as egg noodles. Remember, you can steam the
cabbage and add the butter or margarine in when the noodles are drained and
ready.

1 egg

2 cups flour

Salt

1 teaspoon, milk

1 medium onion

1 cabbage

Beat your egg
well. Stir in 2 cups of flour and a pinch of salt. Gradually add 1 teaspoon of
milk, continuing to stir as you go, until the dough is stiff. Roll out thin
(1/8-inch thick) on a floured board. Cut dough into 1-inch by 2-inch strips.

Drop the strips,
one at a time, into a pot of boiling water and cook for 3 minutes. Drain, rinse
and let dry. While the noodles are drying, saute 1 medium chopped onion in a
tablespoon of butter. Chop a head of cabbage into thin strips, add to the
onion, and cook until tender. Add the noodles to the cabbage and stew for about
30 minutes.

Aprons and Memories

Mom was twirling in the kitchen again. She stretched toward the blue painted  refrigerator, which she opened with a flourish and pulled out a chunk of farm-fresh butter. The Vivaldi blared on the stereo in the next room, where the burnt-orange shag carpeting provided little sound barrier, neither did the matching burlap-like drapes.

She tip-toed over to the counter in time to the music, mimicking my ballet moves and sending my Aunt Mart into hysterical laughter.  Mom was all hips and thighs, yet she flitted like a graceful, overgrown butterfly, with a silly grin on her face. Bowls of blackberries lined up on the counter, along with deep dish pie plates. The smell of flour, freshly picked blackberries, and
the earth just washed from them, filled the air. The swirled green counter and the deep purple berries looked like a painting, with colors so rich and perfect, the picture so quaint and cozy, which stands out like a Polaroid photo in my memory because that is not how I would describe our home most of the time.  But weekends were different.  Mom cooked and baked like she used to —before the divorce.

When she stepped into her kitchen, especially on the weekend, she slipped into another personae, her cares drifting away. She was in the moment, not worrying about her boss at the hotel,
the flat tire on her jalopy of a car, or the finding the money to pay the electric bill.

Okay, so sometimes we ate too much canned or boxed food, but Mom loved to cook and bake, and didn’t skimp on ingredients or helpings. She always used real butter, real potatoes, and baked cake, pudding, and made pie from scratch. Mom grew-up in the 1950s, with a “hope chest” full
of real baby clothes and cookbooks.  Her goal was a husband, babies, and a house to tend.

For a while, my mom achieved her goal. She became such a good cook that even after my parent’s divorce, my father swallowed his pride and asked her to cook certain dishes for special occasions. One of those dishes was stuffed cabbage, known in the Pittsburgh area as “pigs in a blanket,” or “galumkas.”

Later, mom devised a way of getting the same earthy, slightly sweet, flavor of stuffed cabbage, without rolling the ground beef and rice in cabbage leaves, which was the time-consuming part of preparing the dish. Now that she was a working, single mom, she tried to maintain food standards while allowing herself some sanity.

Instead of rolling the cabbage in perfect tubular shapes, she mixed all of the ingredients together, casserole-style, and baked them. It tasted the same as the other more labored method. In fact, I even think it’s more fun —and certainly easier—to eat than regular stuffed cabbage. Knowing all the hard work that goes into rolling them, I always felt a little guilty about the mess I made trying to eat them.

It didn’t matter to me that the cabbage was stuffed or not. What mattered to me as a child was flavor, and later, knowing it was wrought by my mother’s weary hands. I hang on to this thought as I make my own way as a parent—allowing me to let go of my own ideas of perfection.

In my mind’s eye, I often return to my mother’s kitchen on Fish Pot Road.  I am sitting at her old maple drop-leaf table or standing at the kitchen window looking over our backyard. I can almost feel a cool Pennsylvania breeze, see the curtains billowing, and smell pumpkin pie spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg   I see her, round and sturdy, twirling around the kitchen in a frilly apron, moving from pot to oven, to refrigerator, sipping a Fresca, laughing at life.

Yet, my memories may not be accurate. My mind sifts through the lessthan good images, the hard times and the struggle, and holds the essence of the truth in wonderful ways. For example, recently I had a conversation with my mother about her aprons.

“I never wore an apron,” she said. “What you are remembering is my robe. I usually cooked and baked in my robe.”

Mom’s Quick and Easy Stuff-less Cabbage

1 large cabbage, shredded
1 12 ounce can of sauerkraut
2 pounds lean ground beef/pork/veal

1/2 pound of bacon
1/2 cup cooked long grain rice
1 small onion, finely chopped

1 package Lipton’s onion soup
2 8-ounce cans chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon parsley (or to taste)

1 teaspoon oregano (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F

Cut the cabbage in half. Core and shred it. Set it aside. In one bowl, mix together the meat with the rice, spices, dry soup, and onion.  In another bowl, mix together the squeezed tomatoes and the tomato soup.  Place a layer of cabbage on the bottom of your roasting pan. Pour half the sauce over the cabbage.  Take scoops of the meat and place them across the sauce and cabbage. Repeat the layer of cabbage and sauce. Place the pan uncovered in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and lower the temperature to 250 F. Cover the pan tightly and bake until finished, up to two hours.

A note to vegetarians: I’ve made this dish with fake ground beef and it works fine. I use Morningstar Farms Crumbles.